BROOKSIDE—The Jamaica Plain landmark Bella Luna restaurant celebrated its 18th birthday on Nov. 11 with a Bootlegger’s Bash, a 1920s-themed party complete with 17-piece band, costumes and Prohibition-era cocktails.
“It’s just a way of keeping things fresh, of giving people an excuse to dress up and coming up with drinks and a menu that match the theme,” said co-owner Kathie Mainzer.
What began as a tiny gourmet pizzeria in 1993 Hyde Square is now an anchor of the Brewery business complex on Amory Street.
“That whole block was boarded up in ’92. There was a lot of violence in the neighborhood at the time,” Mainzer said. “We thought if we opened a family restaurant there, it would change the atmosphere.”
Mainzer explained that the name Bella Luna, which means “beautiful moon” in Italian, references a Dean Martin song lyric, “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie,” featured in the movie “Moonstruck.” It was also a name the area’s large Latino population could easily pronounce, she said.
Slowly, the tiny pizzeria grew. The downstairs boasted a candlepin bowling alley and lounge. The menu grew to include other things besides pizza. The Milky Way lounge was added. And in 2009, Bella Luna outgrew its first home.
After its 15-year lease ended, Bella Luna left Hyde Square amid rent disputes. Its former space at 403-405 Centre St. remains vacant.
Bella Luna got a big farewell: the owners organized a moving day parade from their old location to the new.
“We thought, maybe 100, 200 people would show up” to their New Orleans-style parade, Mainzer said. “We were flabbergasted” at the 1,200 people who escorted Bella Luna to its new front door.
“We felt so supported by the community that they came with us on the journey to this new space,” Mainzer said.
And Bella Luna continues to evolve.
The recent additions of themed dinners are the brainchild of Chef Sam Putnam, a recent addition to the Bella Luna staff.
“He started these themed dinners with us, nights like Brazilian barbecue, the international wine dinner, the Sam Adams dinner,” Mainzer said. “They’ve been pretty much sold out.”
Putnam has also worked very closely with local sources for Bella Luna’s menu.
“All summer we purchased produce from Silver Brook Farm in southern Massachusetts, Grateful Farms in Franklin, and Wards Berry Farm in Mansfield…It’s very fresh, accessible, flavorful food,” Mainzer said.
They also use locally-caught fish, JP Licks ice cream, JP-made soda and pasta from Brewery complex neighbors Nella Pasta.
“Our mission has always been to give back and support community organizations as much as we could,” Mainzer said.
And at Bella Luna’s 18th birthday party, the community showed its support. The room was packed full of flappers and gangsters, newsboys and classy dames, ordering beer made from a pre-Prohibition recipe and classic cocktails.
Bella Luna continues to offer meals, dance nights, wedding receptions and good times at its 284 Amory St. location. They can be reached at 617-524-6060 or at milkywayjp.com.